‘Less’ is more

Senior-led softball team wins first state championship in school history


Photo via Twitter (@SMHSfastpitch)

Starr’s Mill softball team poses with the GHSA championship trophy after defeating Northside-Columbus 9-0 in five innings. The Lady Panthers used their team motto of “less” to lead them through the playoffs, not losing a single game en route to capturing the first softball state title in school history.

“Less” was the team motto and mentality going into the 2021 softball season. It paid off in the end, with the Lady Panthers winning the first state championship in school history. 

“Nobody played for themselves,” first-year head varsity softball coach Peyton Dean said. “Everyone played for the next person behind them and it was just incredible.”

Starr’s Mill, the No. 3 seed from Region 2-AAAAA, did not lose a game in the postseason. Saturday afternoon, the team hoisted the championship trophy after a 9-0 win over Northside-Columbus in a game that ended in the fifth inning due to mercy rule.

The two teams met twice in the regular season. The Lady Panthers captured the first game on August 24 7-2, but the Lady Patriots battled their way to a 1-0 victory on September 21 en route to becoming the region’s top seed.

“To see another region opponent down there wasn’t a surprise, but it almost makes it a little better beating a region opponent,” Dean said. “It goes to stand that we play in one of the best regions in the state for 5A.”

It goes to stand that we play in one of the best regions in the state for 5A.”

— head coach Peyton Dean

Starr’s Mill opened the double elimination eight team tournament on October 28 with a dominant performance from senior pitcher Lilli Backes. She threw a 17-strikeout no-hitter as the Lady Panthers defeated Woodland 4-0.

The next day, the team defeated Loganville 3-1 to set up a final four matchup with Northside. 

In the first game on Saturday morning, Starr’s Mill only managed two runs in the first inning. Those two were enough to advance to the championship game and force the Lady Patriots into the loser’s bracket.

A 12-7 win over Loganville put Northside back on the field against Starr’s Mill with the daunting task of having to win two games in a row over the Lady Panthers. The championship game was the third in a row for Northside, while Starr’s Mill reaped the benefits of having not lost a game in the tournament and could rest.

“[The team] just got on a roll and they bought in and executed everything perfectly,” Dean said. “It was just incredible to watch everything play out.”

It is easy to say it was all Backes, who eclipsed the 900-career strikeout mark against Woodland Thursday evening. However, the Lady Panther bats came alive late in the season, heavily contributing to their winning efforts. 

It was just incredible to watch everything play out.”

— head coach Peyton Dean

“I think a lot of girls are just settling in as to where they are in the lineup and knowing what their role is in that spot,” Dean said. “Some of them see live pitching over the summer and some of them don’t. It takes a little bit to get back into that groove.”

Last season, after the team lost the state championship game to Jones County 10-0, long-time head coach Mark Williamson stepped down and Dean took over. With Williamson as assistant, Dean captured state title in her first season as head coach.

“It’s unbelievable… some coaches don’t ever get this,” Dean said. “These girls, they’ve earned it, and they worked so hard… We wouldn’t have been able to do this without them and what they’ve bought in for.”

It is the end of the road for seven of the team’s nine starters, including Backes who will play for the University of North Carolina next year. This leaves plenty of cleats to fill for Lady Panther softball in the future.

“We start with JV proving over the year [to] go ahead and get that mindset right,” Dean said. “We’ll start the off-season with conditioning and start getting another core [like] we have this year.”

The Starr’s Mill softball team has taught its players, and all of Panther Nation, that a mentality of “Less” can certainly lead to more–more success, more memories, more pages in school history.